Frozen Forgiveness

There are tonnes of things I love about living in Ottawa, and the Rideau Canal Skateway is number one, hands down.

In twenty-four winters of hopes dashed or bettered, I have never had a harsh word for the skateway.

Even when I went through to my thigh in ice-cold water (which is what I deserved for skating out of bounds).

Even when I sprained my thumb and had to forgo my very first xc-ski race (which is what I should have expected when skating with a brain-injured friend — twice my size).

Even when it melts and freezes and melts and freezes, when it’s bumpy, or crowded, or narrow, or short or when snow-covered cracks threaten to send me flying.

I absolutely always excuse it. I fiercely defend it. I’m unconditionally grateful when it’s open. I focus only on what’s good.

If only forgiveness were always so easy.

Rebuilding Me

Almost daily, I’m encouraged to “keep fighting!” and, while I sincerely appreciate the emboldening intention, I’m always a bit perplexed.

I’m not fighting. In fact, I’ve never fought less.

During my 12 precarious years at Nortel, I was fighting. During my various vicious family torments, I was fighting. During my struggles with sundry insecure, thoughtless or just plain nasty humans, I was fighting.

But I’m not fighting now.

I’m healing. I’m nestling. I’m carefully rebuilding my body, my mind, my life; pulling things out, examining them, deciding what goes back in, and where.

The scalpel, chemo and gamma-rays do my fighting while I’m absolutely busy cultivating wellness and peace.

I am grateful to the citizens and politicians who have fought for free health care, to the scientists who continue to fight for cures, to the doctors, nurses and technicians who fight fatigue to care, to the taxpayers who fight daily to earn their OHIP contributions and to the many cancer patients before me who have fought for their lives as treatments continue to be tested, tweaked and tuned.

And I’m grateful for the opportunity to build a happier, healthier me.

Related Links:
Writing in the face of death

Ordinary is the new extraordinary

As part of the process of rationalizing something for myself, I’d like to tell you about a few people we know.

The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre and Chemotherapy Clinic have some amazing volunteers. Patricia and Dave, in particular, come to mind. When they greet you, you feel like you’re someone and you’ve arrived someplace you want to be. They happily escort you wherever you need to be and answer any questions you have. They’re just happy to do that for you; never mind that you may be stressed or feeling physically or emotionally crappy. They can turn around your attitude, feelings and outlook. If you ask them, though, Patricia and Dave will tell you they’re “just volunteers” and love helping out.

Most parents in Ottawa know or know of Little Ray. He’s the co-founder of Little Ray’s Reptile Adventure, a reptile zoo in the south end of the city. His collection includes abandoned pets from owners who had no clue what they were getting into, and he has even received wild reptiles that were rescued and in some cases confiscated by the authorities.

Besides his zoo and its amazing demonstrations, parties and eco-education programs, Little Ray is regularly invited into schools, conducts home-based birthday parties and exhibits in fairs all over the place. His passion for animals, education programs and life is completely infectious. Over lunch with Little Ray yesterday, I was caught up in how he can make you excited to learn and enjoy life. If you ask Little Ray, he’s “just living his dream”.

Meanwhile, Little Ray carried on about how inspired he is by our website and our transparency as we share Andrea’s journey to becoming a breast cancer survivor (see Little Ray’s blog post about being inspired by us).

For a good chunk of our journey, many people have remarked to Andrea and me how inspiring we are. Besides Little Ray, I received three emails with that message yesterday. I generally have difficulty understanding and accepting that idea. And then, when I consider how we view Patricia, Dave, Little Ray and many other people in our lives, I realize that ordinary may be the new extraordinary.

From the Mouth of Bayla #5

When you go through chemo, you should shave your head if you don’t really want to know when you lose your hair but even if you DO shave your head you can FEEL when your hair WOULD fall out, your head gets all tender and sore, it really hurts when people touch it so, when your hair starts to fall out try to avoid people touching your head.

Of Power and Poison

Words of wisdom from The Secret Garden (a recovery must-read):

In each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have been discovered. In the last century more amazing things were found out than in any century before. In this new century hundreds of things still more astounding will be brought to light. At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can’t be done, then they see it can be done — then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts — just mere thoughts — are as powerful as electric batteries — as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live
.

So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him and reflected hourly on humps and early death, he was a hysterical, half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the spring, and also did not know that he could get well and stand upon his feet if he tried to do it. When new, beautiful thoughts began to push out the old, hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins, and strength poured into him like a flood… Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought come into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

Where you tend a rose, my lad
A thistle cannot grow.

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911.

Escape from Sudden Valley

Recovery from chemo2 has been miles better than chemo1. Correcting my inadvertently doubled steroid prescription allowed me to sleep the nights immediately following my infusion and to skip the hangover that kept me moaning on the couch days 5, 6 and 7 last time round.

Still, late Tuesday afternoon, I fell into a Sudden Valley of self-pity.

Maybe it was the lurking nausea that makes me gasp at smells, repetition and gross thoughts of all kinds; the accumulating isolation and detachment from normal, happy, healthy life; or the banning of all my favourite treats.

Whatever the reason, I fell fairly hard and spent most of two days in a smile-free limbo that included two temper tantrums, relentless grimacing and the frenzied consumption of a family-sized bag of Miss Vickie’s Salt & Vinegar chips.

And then they opened the Rideau Canal Skateway.

No sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, no germs. Just the swish, swish of strong legs on blades on ice.

And life is good again.

Journey Learning #4: Releasing Resentment

Being bullied, belittled and abused from birth definitely didn’t make me the most carefree of characters. It left me raw and responsive to random nastiness. It made injustices cling — each incidental injury tearing into the stinging wound within.

And the clinging hurts became cancer.

I’m realizing now that I have to let go. That to flush the cancer from my body, I need to flush out the pain. I need to expel the anguish I feel every single day. I need to release the resentment towards the handful of people who have hurt me most; who continue to hurt me, through snipes, spite or snubbing.

I must.

But how?

Happiness Is…

My Family.

Based on the shouting, stomping, screaming and slamming of doors, our neighbours would never guess that our feisty little family is my absolute bliss.

We’re more BLAM! (Bayla, Lucy, Andrea, Mark) than Lamb (Lucy, Andrea, Mark, Bayla) but I wouldn’t trade even our most explosive family moments for the world….

…OK, now I’m just lying for no reason (AD).

But really, my feisty little family is my absolute bliss.

Image: Ian PK of KilMil.com

And For My Next Trick…

Aside from the obvious feats for the squeamish (injections, surgeries, claustrophobic scans and implanted heart vein stuff), the past 3 months have provided me with opportunities to perform the following impressive stunts (please hum “The Final Countdown” while reading this list):

  • lasting 3 weeks — and counting — without entering a store, coffee shop or restaurant
  • grinning and bearing various brutally insensitive so-you’ve-got-cancer remarks
  • surviving Christmas Day without coffee or chocolate
  • juicing and guzzling a potent veggie combo every single morning for 10 weeks, and counting
  • popping more pills and supplements than in my entire pre-c life combined
  • wearing the same 8 or so tights, T & hoodie day in and day out for weeks
  • enduring outrageous family flare ups without losing my mind
  • peeing red (Epirubicin portion of FEC chemo)
  • peeing blue (radioactive dye)
  • sharing my home, against my will, with … wait for it … RATS (yup! the vermin moved in 4 weeks into this challenge and have yet to vamoose)

Ta da! (AD)

Difficult Decisions

Being decisive is hard, especially when new information causes you to constantly revisit, rethink and even reverse your decisions. That’s par for the course when you’re dealing with something like cancer-related surgery.

We’ve had our audio recorders running during a good chunk of our journey. This includes conversations and telephone calls as we considered which of either a lumpectomy or bilateral mastectomy was the best course of action.

It was interesting distilling three hours of recorded conversations to this 10 minute story, and particularly surprising to think this process dates back three months already (this audio was recorded leading up to Andrea’s first surgery, October 26, 2009).

CREDITS

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